Ethics and the Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) has been foundational portion of scripture from the early days of the church (Lawson, 2008). As a collection of teachings and sayings by Jesus (Fedler, 2006) it is considered an ethical baseline. Some scholars feel that these teachings of Jesus are too lofty of an expectation to be realistically considered for emulation, but serve as an illustration humanity’s sinfulness (Niebuhr, 1935). Others believe it is a new code of law being set forth by Jesus to replace the old code, however this is a decontextualization of Jesus’ teachings, taking this portion of scripture out of the entirety of scripture (Lawson, 2008, p. 30) where Jesus is clearly against placing a new moral law that is a list of rules to abide by (Allard, p. 399, 2010).

Jesus didn’t want to place a law code that was so unyielding and complex that it divides people from one another and God, but he did want to call his people to a higher level of righteousness that encompasses the thoughts and feelings of the mind and heart (Fedler, 2006).

For leaders, the Sermon on the Mount reveals that Jesus felt calling people required setting an example, as he did not simply call people to a higher ethical lifestyle but he demonstrated it for them throughout the rest of the Gospels (Lawson, 2008, p. 29). He demonstrated love for his enemies (Mt. 5:43-48, lived out prayer and fasting (Mt. 6:5-18), he turned the other cheek (Mt. 5:39) when he goes to the cross willingly (Mt. 26:67, 68; 27:30). Jesus lived the Sermon on the Mount as an example, setting an example for leaders to strive to be an example for followers in the same way.


Allard, R. E. (2010). Freedom on your head (1 Corinthians 11:2-16): a paradigm for the structure of Paul’s ethics. Word & World, 30(4), 399–407.

Fedler, K. D. (2006). Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.

Lawson, D. (2008). Transforming initiatives: leadership ethics from the Sermon on the Mount. The Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, 3(1), 28–45.

Niebuhr, R. (1979). An Interpretation of Christian Ethics (Reissue edition). San Francisco, Calif.: Seabury Press.

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